Shay Sheridan - Reality
Tony was surprised to hear Virginia singing--SINGING--in the shower.
For weeks she'd moped along, monosyllabic and remote, and now, suddenly, she was singing in her high thin voice (he put his ear to the door to listen) "Hey Jude," mixing up the words and repeating endless choruses of "La, la, la, la, lalalalaaaa, lalalalaaa, hey Jude."
Strange, to say the least.
When he analyzed it, it also seemed strange that she was showering in the early evening, unless –
"Mmm, yes, Dad?" She appeared in the living room in a terrycloth robe and a towel around her hair. She was smiling. Actually smiling.
Uh-oh. The instincts of fathers throughout history prickled and gave him the answer, but he asked the question anyway. "Got a date?"
She smiled again, and looked away. She was blushing. "Um, yeah."
"Who is it?"
"A guy I met. Name's Mike."
"Have I met him?"
"Nope." She was torturing him. She lived to torture him.
"And what does this Mike do?"
"Daa-ad! Sheesh." She rolled her eyes. "What am I, sixteen?" But she was grinning.
He looked her square in the eye, trying unsuccessfully to give the appearance of a disciplinarian. "No, but you are my daughter and I want to know who you're out with, and whether he's some sort of lowlife with dishonorable intentions --"
"He's a stockbroker."
"Really?" Tony's face lit up. "Well. Have a nice time, honey."
Virginia snorted. Money had a powerful effect on her father's judgment, no doubt about it. She went back in her bedroom to dry her hair.
In his armchair, Tony smiled. It was reassuring to see her in good spirits again. It had been so long since she'd really enjoyed herself.
Not, mind you, that he wanted her to enjoy herself too much! She was still his baby girl, after all.
At eight o'clock sharp the bell rang for the door downstairs, and Virginia beat Tony to the buzzer and chirped into the speaker that she'd be right down. She'd bolted for the door before Tony could ask why her date wasn't coming up. Virginia wasn't yet ready to throw Mike to her father. Give the guy a chance to prepare.
Mike was at the downstairs door, not pacing but on the verge. Oh, how handsome he looked! She was caught off guard by him all over again.
"Wow. You look great!" He ogled her shamelessly.
What a nice way to be greeted! She was glad she'd run out and bought a new dress in a deep violet color that intensified her eyes. So it cut into the housekeeping money--so what? Some things were more important than having a supply of Mr. Clean and steak in the house.
She buttoned up her coat against the slight sharpness of the wind, and shivered a little with delight as he put his arm around her. They stepped onto the sidewalk and he looked up.
"This is a terrific building--great location--pre-war, big windows. You must like living here."
"I like being near the museum. And the park." She did, she realized. She liked living near the park. Once again.
They were walking to the corner of Fifth Avenue. To a car. A big car. A big car with a driver. Virginia realized a fraction of a second before a liveried driver opened the back door that this was HIS car. Not a taxi, not a car service car. A limo.
"Cripes," she said.
He stared at her for a second, then smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling. "Just another of the perks of being a Wolf."
"What? Oh...yes, I understand." He followed her into the back seat, and the driver closed the door and started the car.
"Virginia, I'd like you to meet Robert, who has the unenviable task of shepherding the Wolfs around on a daily basis. Robert, Virginia Lewis."
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Lewis." The driver was one of those people who are ugly in an interesting way, and when he smiled at her in the rearview mirror, it was with a lopsided but rakish grin.
"Hi." She smiled back, then turned to Mike. "A driver, huh...so...what were you doing taking the subway?"
He gave her a mock insulted look. "Surely, Virginia, you're not suggesting I am above taking public transportation?" He raised his hand to his head and for just a second Virginia thought he was going to scratch at his temple; instead he ran his hand through his thick dark hair. "Actually, mid-day I stick to the subway. You get around much faster. Besides, Robert is really my grandfather's driver, aren't you, Robert?"
"Unfortunately yes, Mike." The two men laughed.
There was a pleasant camaraderie to their banter that Virginia found appealing. Mike was clearly not one to treat employees as servants, despite his obvious affluence. She liked that. He seemed to put Robert on his own level. Where, she wondered, does he put me?
"Didn't know what kind of food you like, so I'm going to take you to one of my favorite places and hope for the best."
Virginia had been expecting he'd take her to a well-known New York restaurant, maybe one with a view, or famous clientele, but "one of my favorite places" turned out to be a tiny candle-lit restaurant just off West Street without so much as a sign out front. There were only a handful of tables, and the hostess, who called Mike by name, didn't bother to give them menus. "Trust her," Mike said, as the hostess went off to get them wine. "She'll take good care of us."
And she did. Plate after plate of one-of-a-kind delicacies arrived at their table, until Virginia had to acknowledge she couldn't eat another morsel. She hadn't had such a fine meal since--well, since THAT dinner in Kissing-- Angry at herself, she brushed away the memory. She wasn't about to start confusing herself now.
Mike's eyes were sparkling in the candlelight, and he lifted a glass of wine. "To subway platforms." They clinked glasses. The way he was looking at her--she felt flushed, excited. She hoped it wasn't just the wine. She didn't think it was.
Robert was waiting by the car when they emerged from the restaurant. "Want to walk a little?" Mike asked.
"Yes. I'd like to."
Mike whispered something to the driver, who nodded and smiled, and retired to the car. They walked around Greenwich Village, wandering the twisting streets, admiring the facades of charming houses, peering in shop windows. Silly, prosaic things. Virginia found it all amazing, though she'd been there hundreds of times. I guess it depends on the company. She stole a sideways look at Mike, who was examining a gargoyle head set on a gate.
At length the wind off the river began to take on a harsher edge. Mike reached down and pulled Virginia's coat more snugly around her. "Chilly?"
"A little." She found it sweet to be bundled up by him.
Mike looked around and waved, and the car pulled up. Robert had evidently shadowed them at a discreet distance--Virginia hadn't seen him since they left the restaurant.
They rode uptown silently, sitting close together. Mike reached over and took her hand, smiled at her, then kissed her hand lightly. In the darkness of the car she saw his face only in flashes, as headlights lit it up, but in those moments she could see him staring at her with the same intent look he'd had in the restaurant.
The car slowed, then stopped. With a little start of surprise she realized they were in front of her apartment.
"Virginia --" He stopped. The streetlight bathed them both in an amber-pink glow. He swallowed, looked down, then back at her. Her heart was pounding. She knew what she wanted him to say, something along the lines of "Let me make mad, passionate love to you," but instead he just said, "This is really strange." His voice was hoarse.
He shook his head. "I don't feel like this is our first date. Do you?"
Her eyes opened very wide. "You...feel that way?" When he nodded, she released her breath. "Me, too."
"I feel like this is, I don't know --" If he says "destiny" I am going to pass out. He left the thought unfinished. "I am not handing you a line. I swear. It's like deja vu, or something. But I like the feeling. Boy, do I like it."
She didn't reply. She didn't think she could.
"Please, Virginia, tell me I'm not behaving like an idiot."
You're not. You're SO not. "You are. I like it, though."
"Well, okay, good enough. Great, even. This is good. Tomorrow."
"Want to see you tomorrow."
"Oh--oh, I'm working tomorrow night. At the Grill." Dammit!
"When are you done?"
"Not till eleven --"
"I'll pick you up. We'll go somewhere."
"Okay, we won't go anywhere. I'll walk you home."
"It's in the park --"
"We'll go trolling for muggers, then."
She laughed. He was making her breathless. "Okay, okay. Yes."
"But no muggers."
He smiled at her. "No muggers. Deal." And then, without another word, he leaned in and kissed her. Not a little first date kiss. A big, serious, world-class, epic kiss. A great kiss.
After eons during which planets shifted their orbits, empires rose and fell and Robert walked around the block at least twice, Mike opened the car door and walked Virginia across the sidewalk to her building. "Tomorrow," he said, kissing her hand again. He watched her go into the lobby, then turned and went back to the limo. Robert, unobtrusive as always, was back in the driver's seat. "Nice girl," the chauffeur said, catching his eye.
Mike looked out the window. "The one." The car shot down Fifth Avenue into the dark.
Wolf raided a henhouse, stole all the eggs, then went back and grabbed a chicken, too. He was an expert poacher, and completed his raid swiftly and nearly silently, though he cursed himself bitterly as he did so for reverting to old habits.
A miserable state of affairs, indeed, he thought, stuffing the eggs into a satchel he'd helped himself to from beside a sleeping farmhand. Funny, though, how you never forget the really important skills: picking pockets, sneaking past shepherds, stealing eggs from under sleeping chickens without ruffling their feathers.
Deep in a hollow he lit a small fire, and heated a skillet he'd pinched from a farm kitchen. He straightened the lapels of the coat he'd "liberated" from its previous owner. Hmmph! He wasn't an animal! He liked good clothing. He preferred his eggs cooked, didn't he? The thought cheered him momentarily, until it hit him that skulking in the woods eating stolen eggs, wearing stolen clothes, was a far cry from eating truffled game hen in King Wendell's banquet hall in a velvet suit made expressly for him by the king's tailor.
I guess that was an illusion, too, he thought glumly. Whatever gave me the idea that I'd ever be welcome to eat with royalty? He snorted derisively at his own stupidity. So far he' d managed not to think about the big question, though it loomed over his head like a dark cloud. Instead, he'd let himself drift into the easy patterns of thievery and scrounging. But now the insistent thought depressed him so much that he found his appetite diminishing. The chicken, whose neck he'd been about to wring, dropped squawking from his hands and ran into the forest.
All right, then--let's talk about it! Did I imagine everything or not?
You dreamt it!
You dreamt it!
He hit himself on the side of his head with a balled up fist. Didn't, didn't, didn't!
Or did I?
He was making himself crazy.
Maybe he was already crazy, really truly nut-job crazy, not just high-strung and neurotic.
Neurotic....n e u r o t i c...
Where had he gotten that word?
He turned the phrase over in his mind, savoring the sound of it. New-rot-ick. Like "erotic." Well, he certainly knew what that word meant, it described his favorite fantasies–
But the other term...he understood its meaning, all right, it referred to the dysfunctional ways he dealt with food, with his fears, his obsessions, but when exactly had it become part of his vocabulary? And, while he was at it, where had "dysfunctional" come from?
He screwed up his face, concentrating. It seemed suddenly VERY important that he know. He'd heard it from –
Wolf felt the blood drain from his head. Reality turned upside down again, for the second time since he'd awakened in prison. He felt giddy.
Okayokayokay...Think, Wolf, think. MAYBE I could concoct a month-long trek through the nine kingdoms...maybe I could imagine dinner with the king. And maybe, just maybe, wishful thinking could account for a wonderful creature like Virginia.
But, DR. HOROVITZ???
Nothing about her had any counterpart in his world. What they'd talked about, the books she'd had him read, the terms she'd used and he'd seen explained in print, NONE of it had ever been part of his experience, or that of anyone else in the nine kingdoms, wizards, warlocks and wise-women included. Of that he was absolutely, positively certain.
Just as he was absolutely positive he hadn't made her up. Because she'd HELPED him, really truly helped him, to understand things about himself he hadn't understood before. He'd changed. He was a better person, one who knew it was wrong to steal, behave cavalierly towards others. And in all the years before, NOTHING had ever done that.
And if she was real...
"Cripes!" He jumped up, knocking the skillet off the fire, scattering firewood everywhere. It was all real! It had all happened! "Cripes!" he said again.
Time was wasting. Now he knew Virginia existed, he had to find her. If he had to scour all nine kingdoms to do it. Or even the Tenth.
"Oh, no!" He suddenly realized he'd missed something important. The mirror! If history was repeating itself, for whatever reason, the traveling mirror had to be in the prison. He hadn't even looked for it when he was searching for Virginia. Would it still be there? Or had the evil queen appropriated it? And if he did find it, would Virginia be on the other side? Too many questions, too many possibilities. Better to take action and let the possibilities sort themselves out later.
Wolf suddenly felt much, much better. Things were definitely looking up. He even felt hungry again.